Sunday, 17 February 2019

New HoD for Chemical Engineering

PLANNING: Associate Professor Karabo Ntwampe inspects the rooftop of the new Chemical Engineering building on the Bellville campus. PLANNING: Associate Professor Karabo Ntwampe inspects the rooftop of the new Chemical Engineering building on the Bellville campus.

Assoc Prof Karabo Ntwampe can’t help but see a touch of the surreal in his move into the new Chemical Engineering building on Bellville campus

Ntwampe entered the Chemical Engineering Department as a 19-year-old student tutor back in 1999 and now returns as the new Head of Department.

The past 11 years has seen him do every kind of job as he climbed the ranks through the Biotechnology and Consumer Science Department, finishing off as their HoD.

Sponsored to study by then Somchem, now Denel, Ntwampe worked for the munitions company after finishing his BTech in Chemical Engineering but returned to CPUT to finish his Masters (cum laude) in 2005 and immediately registered as the first doctoral candidate in Chemical Engineering the next year.

“Funnily enough, they rejected my proposal,” Ntwampe remembers with a wry smile.

While he wanted to register in Chemical Engineering his thesis topic strayed into Biotechnology, specifically concentrating on wastewater treatment, and it took a lot of arguing to be heard. Eventually, he discovered when the research committee would meet and invited himself to attend.

“I do understand that I was the first full-time PhD student they had and at the time research was not as big a focus for the university, it was geared more around teaching,” he said.

Together with fellow students Ntwampe and his colleagues formed a postgraduate student association to support each other as they tried to navigate the paperwork of further studies. What they quickly learned was they needed to understand university processes in order to navigate their studies. “We started off by complaining but that didn’t get us very far. What we learned was we also needed to provide solutions.” Today that group has produced four professors, seven doctors and a deputy vice-chancellor at a Tanzanian university among other accolades. “That’s what led me to try to actually help other students,” he said about the association.

Ntwampe has built up the interdisciplinary Bioresource Engineering Research Group over the years – they expect their sixth doctoral candidate to graduate this year – and hopes to build on its success to shepherd the Chemical Engineering Department to produce an even greater numbers of Masters and Doctorates than they do currently.

He believes moving into the new building is the perfect pretext for rebuilding a culture of inclusivity and tolerance and breaking down the distance he senses growing between staff and students.
“In this new building it’s a new future for us. People should see it as an opportunity to engage and start anew.”

That’s a long term project though. In the short term, once all the office furniture is squared away, Ntwampe wants to start a roof garden: “When we moved in and I saw the space I immediately thought ‘this is a space where students can come to engage and unwind.’ We might not have the view of District Six campus but we will have our own paradise.”

Written by CPUT Web Editor